Home Books The Other Black Girl: by Zakiya Dalila Harris

The Other Black Girl: by Zakiya Dalila Harris

The Other Black Girl arrives at a time when white America is finally realizing that Black voices actually matter. Debut author Zakiya Dalila Harris offers a point of view that many white folks never have to experience in their professional lives: what if you were the only person who looks like you at your workplace? Specifically, the publishing world, an industry long-dominated by a white hegemony. What does it mean to be the only Black person working in a field where having Black characters in a book is suddenly en vogue?

Here, we meet Nella Rogers, an editorial assistant at Wagner Books, a significant publishing house. Nella dreams of someday becoming an editor, a position only attainable after years of long hours for low pay. Nella is also the only Black person who works at Wagner, making her the go-to for sensitivity readings but even that advice is often ignored. When Nella begins a drive to bring diverse voices to Wagner and perhaps even some equity training, she is greeted with indifference by her colleagues. She is deep in the weeds and the prospects of a promotion seem dim.

Things change with the arrival of Hazel-May McCall, another Black editorial assistant. In fact, Nella smells Hazel-May before she even sees her, the fragrance of Brown Buttah hair product a dead giveaway that there is another person of color in the office. Nella is elated at first. She and Hazel-May form an instant bond. Finally, there is someone who can understand everything that is wrong with Wagner! But that happiness is short-lived.

Black hair is a very important part of the novel and Harris isn’t just dropping these details for no reason. The book even begins with a prologue where a former Black editor at Wagner is fleeing New York with a burning scalp. Nella, who long eschewed her natural hair, is trying to cultivate an Afro and her identity. Meanwhile, Hazel-May enters the scene with locs “each one as thick as a bubble tea straw and longer than her arms.” She possesses the confidence to own her Blackness. Something Nella hasn’t achieved.

Then things start to go strange. Nella begins to receive anonymous notes, telling her to leave Wagner ASAP. That it’s not safe. Hazel-May immediately becomes the star editorial assistant, winning over the admiration of not only Nella’s direct boss but even the owner of the publishing house himself, someone Nella hasn’t spoken with since her hire. Hazel-May is even successful at bringing in the diverse voices that Nella once dreamed to recruit. Nella is jealous and perplexed. Hazel-May seems perfect in every way. Yet, there is something nefarious just below the surface.

The Other Black Girl functions best when diving headfirst into race and office politics. Nella upsets a major writer (who is white) when offering a critique of a Black character, a situation that spirals to a point where Nella’s boss asks her to apologize to him for her feedback. It’s these moments where Harris explores how race and class collide in an office where the book shines.

But there is also a thriller aspect that I will not spoil, one that sends The Other Black Girl off the rails in its final act. Harris also interrupts Nella’s narrative multiple times throughout the book, bringing in secondary characters who aren’t very well developed. As a satire of office politics, The Other Black Girl is top-notch. But its thriller elements ultimately break down into something completely different, less welcome and, ultimately, less thrilling.

Summary
As a satire of office politics, The Other Black Girl is top-notch. But its thriller elements ultimately break down into something completely different, less welcome and, ultimately, less thrilling.
54 %
A dicey proposition
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